British Seismologist Eyes Fracking as Possible Earthquake Cause

A British seismologist believes two earthquakes that occurred in Blackpool, England earlier this year may have been caused by a nearby natural gas drilling operation where <"">hydraulic fracturing, or fracking was taking place. According to The New York Times, Brian Baptie, seismic project team leader with the British Geological Survey, said the minor earthquakes “appeared to correlate closely” to the fracking activity.

The first of the two quakes, a magnitude 2.3, occurred on April 1. A magnitude 1.5 occurred on May 27. According to the Times, Cuadrilla Resources, a British energy company, was fracking at a nearby well when the earthquakes occurred. The epicenter of one of the quakes was located just 500 meters from the well.

Cuadrilla has since suspended its fracking operations, and has commissioned a group of scientists to study the activity. Its report is due this month.

Baptie said that in the Blackpool quakes, the high-pressure injection of water during fracking may have reduced the stresses on a nearby fault, causing it to slip, the Times said. While he said that it might be possible to go from a magnitude 2.3 to about a 3.0, “the chances of getting a very large earthquake are negligible.”

Here in the U.S., fracking operations have also been cited as a possible cause of earthquakes. Earlier this year, we reported that a similar occurrence in Arkansas had prompted the closure of several underground waste disposal sites for fracking wastewater. At the time, it was reported that 90 percent of the earthquakes recorded in Arkansas since 2009 had occurred within six kilometers of salt water disposal sites associated with fracking operations. In 2009, the disposal of fracking wastewater was also named a possible suspect in a series of earthquakes that plagued North Texas, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, prompting Chesapeake to close two nearby disposal wells “as a precautionary measure.”. A possible link to fracking and earthquake activity has also been investigated in West Virginia and Colorado.

In the Canadian province of British Columbia, regulators are trying to determine if a recent upsurge in earthquake activity in the extreme northeastern corner of the province could be the result of fracking.

As we’ve reported previously, fracking involves the high-pressure injection of water, sand and chemicals into a well split shale rock and release trapped gas. It is known that the act of fracking can cause small earthquakes, similar to what occurred in Blackpool. Larger earthquakes can be caused when high-pressure waste fluid is injected into underground disposal pits, experts say.

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